Acted Alone, Says Man Arrested for Vandalism at Puri Temple Kitchen

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A 30-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the vandalism at the kitchen in Puri’s Jagannath temple, a senior police officer said on Wednesday. J Mohapatra, a resident of Begunia area in Khurda district, was apprehended from Puri-Khurda Road on Tuesday night, the officer said, adding that he did confess to his crime.

During preliminary interrogation, the accused revealed that he vandalised the ‘chulhas’ (earthen ovens) as he “felt uneasy over the commercialisation of mahaprasad” at the temple, Puri Superintendent of Police (SP) K V Singh stated. Mohapatra was produced before a court in Puri, which remanded him in judicial custody for 14 days.

Over 40 ‘chulhas’ or earthen ovens that are used to cook ‘mahaprasad’ at the temple’s kitchen were found vandalised on Sunday morning. While being taken to the court, the accused told reporters that he was alone responsible for the damage.

“There was no pressure on me, and nobody assisted me,” he insisted. The accused maintained that he would often visit the temple to clean its premises. “I felt uneasy about the manner in which the Lord’s Mahaprasad is being commercialised. Devotees are not getting prasad and some people are making profits out of it,” he said.

Asked how many ‘chulhas’ did he damage, he said, “I have not counted. It could be 30 to 40. I just entered the temple kitchen out of curiosity and cleaned it. Later, as I found food grains lay wasted in the kitchen, it upset me. In a spur of the moment, I vandalised the chulhas.” Mohapatra’s parents, however, contended that they do not believe he was involved in the incident. “Our son used to frequently visit Jagannath temple in Puri and Ranpur. At the Puri temple, he would spend several hours cleaning the premises. He is a God-fearing person. He cannot do any such thing,” his mother said to a group of journalists who visited Mohapatra’s hometown. The Puri SP, on his part, said identifying the accused was a challenge for the police.

Mohapatra was identified from CCTV footages gathered from the temple premises, he said. Four security personnel deployed at the temple were seen in a CCTV footage driving him out after the incident, the officer pointed out. All four of them have been grilled, he said without give more details about it.

The SP, however, noted there was no CCTV fitted inside the kitchen. During interrogation, the accused claimed that after leaving the temple, he took a bath in the sea before boarding a train to Jatni, Singh told mediapersons. Asked about the accused person’s mental state, the SP said, It can only be ascertained by specialists. We are also speaking to his family members in this matter. Prima facie it seems the accused acted alone.” .

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